Jennifer Leigh Blankenbeckler
Jennifer Leigh Blankenbeckler, age 45, of Santa Barbara, CA, passed away on August 9, 2021, at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital surrounded by her family.
Born on May 13, 1976, in Louisville, KY, Jen was the daughter of John C. Blankenbeckler, Jr. and Leigh Lewis Blankenbeckler, little sister to John C. (Jay) Blankenbeckler, III, sister-in-law to Paulette Blankenbeckler and “Aunt Jenz” to her beloved nieces, Taylor and Riley.
In 1979, Jennifer’s family moved to San Diego, CA, where she excelled academically and athletically. She got her first taste of competition at 6 years old, the youngest at the time to participate in the San Diego Breakers 5k. Later, she helped her volleyball and basketball teams at Poway High to win California Interscholastic Federation championships. Jen was a scholar athlete of the year as a senior.
Jennifer was recruited to play volleyball at several colleges but chose the University of Arkansas, where she spent two years before transferring to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), which would be her future, “permanent” home where a network of extraordinary friends and professional colleagues would be with her through her final days. Jennifer graduated from UCSB in 1998 with Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications.
Jennifer possessed an adventurous spirit and love of travel which took her across Europe, Central America and the US., with favorite spots in Hawaii, Colorado and the California Sierras. Starting with family trips during her youth in Kentucky and Virginia, Jennifer developed a love of camping, fishing, and skiing, which drew her to Vail, Colorado after college, where she served as a youth ski instructor. In the years that followed, Jennifer worked with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Orange County, CA, and with St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, ME, where she received her degree in Applied Science as a Medical Assistant.
Eventually, Jennifer returned to Santa Barbara, working again at the iconic Paradise Café as a waitress, bartender, and manager and then as a Medical Assistant with the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center.
A little on Jennifer’s big heart: She was fiercely independent and proud to take care of herself. Jennifer was, hands down, the best gift giver – ever. Never missing anyone’s birthday, her cards and kind gestures were often handmade and thoughtfully personalized for the recipient. She could be hysterically, unabashedly silly – or deep, present, and serious…but always attentive to the needs of people around her. Jennifer was caring and generous, both to those she barely knew and her oldest friends, maintaining those friendships over long distances and stretches of time.
Jennifer’s life was marked by cancer, but in a way that empowered her to use it as a tool to serve others. It became her calling after she endured life-threatening brain cancer when living in Vail at the young age of 25. Once recovered and in remission, Jennifer dedicated her life supporting others with cancer, from fundraising and running marathons for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Dempsey Challenge to volunteering for numerous cancer causes like the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation and The Brad Kaminsky Foundation, and serving as a hands-on mentor for those enduring challenging prognoses and treatments.
For the past five years, in her role at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, Jennifer brought compassionate empathy and her famous, radiant smile to patients. Jennifer was known for going above and beyond, blending her organizational fastidiousness with her big, authentic warmth. She held a tremendously high standard of service for her patients – because she intimately understood what they were going through. In her spare time, Jennifer took it upon herself to mail cards to family members who ultimately lost their loved ones to cancer. She attended most of her patients’ services and funerals and stayed in touch with widows and families.
In 2018, Jennifer donned her Cancer Warrior Cape again after a diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her brother was a bone marrow match, and his gift gave her three more precious years with her family, friends, and patients.
On this last go-round with cancer, Jennifer initially considered it just another interruption in her life. Ultimately, though, Jennifer’s fate was to do better work on the other side.
“Angel” is a word that is never used lightly, yet it was one often applied to Jen in her service, love and friendship. Now she is officially our angel.